051218-F-2953C-001

By DAVID CHANEN, STAR TRIBUNE

A handful of protesters who support Papa Faal gathered outside of the courthouse.

A Brooklyn Center U.S. Air Force veteran accused of participating in a coup to overthrow the president of Gambia was denied release Thursday during an appearance in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis.

Papa Faal, 46, is accused of conspiring to violate the Neutrality Act by making a military expedition against a friendly nation. He is one of two Americans charged in connection with their roles in the plot.

Faal, who left the West African nation 23 years ago, has described the failed Dec. 30 coup as an attempt to restore democracy there. He said he joined the movement because he was disenchanted by the way Gambia’s president, Yahya Jammeh, “was rigging elections.”

Faal is accused of shipping a handful of guns to Gambia, hidden among clothing and other goods in four 50-gallon drums. He then went there himself, financed by the coup’s interim leader, a businessman whose code name was “Dave.”

But on Dec. 30, the expected revolt became a fiasco. Only a dozen or so soldiers stormed the government State House in the capital, Banjul. Faal had expected the Gambian army to flee or join the rebellion, but instead they opened fire, killing several rebels.

Faal fled first to nearby Senegal, then back to the United States, where he was arrested at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C.

A second man, Cherno Njie, 57, of Texas, identified as “Dave,” also is in custody and made an appearance in U.S. District Court in Baltimore earlier this week. Njie’s case will be transferred to Minnesota, the U.S. attorney’s office in Minneapolis said.

U.S. Attorney Andy Luger said earlier this week that prosecutors and FBI agents worked nonstop over a holiday weekend “to uncover evidence of the plot to overthrow the Gambian government.”

Faal supporters say he was “a freedom fighter” of “good moral character” engaged in “self-defense” against an oppressive government led by Jammeh. About 10 of them protested outside court on Thursday.

Jammeh seized power in a coup in 1994 when he was a young army lieutenant. There have been at least four military attempts to oust him.

Attorney Anders Folk, a former assistant U.S. attorney, on Monday called Gambia “a repressive government” but said the purpose of prosecuting the two men is “to prevent people from conducting freelance foreign policy missions against foreign governments with whom the United States has relationships. … The United States government doesn’t want people to take matters into their own hands.”

Former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger also supported the prosecutions.

“We are at peace with Gambia,” he said. “And if we are at peace with them, it is a violation of federal law to conspire from the United States by preparing for or financing or initiating a coup or, as the statute says, an expedition.”

Both Folk and Heffelfinger said the charges could bring up to a life sentence.

Courtesy of Star Tribune 

Ends

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